Pugh to return to N.C. Zoo leadership

Mary Joan Pugh Deputy Director, N.C. Zoo

Mary Joan Pugh
Deputy Director, N.C. Zoo

RALEIGH – Jones & Blount has learned that Mary Joan Pugh will leave her post as interim assistant secretary at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and return to the N.C. Zoo as deputy director, effective July 1. Pugh was named interim assistant secretary earlier this year when Brad Ives left the agency shortly after Donald van der Vaart was named secretary of DENR.

“It was a fun five months,” said Pugh, who also served in the post during the administration of Gov. Jim Martin. “I enjoyed the opportunity to help move DENR forward and work to help them promote bonds for state parks and improve the public-private relationships.”

Pugh, who lives in Asheboro, will return to the N.C. Zoo to help incoming zoo Director Pat Simmons. The move also comes as the state legislature hammers out the details of moving the zoo, aquariums and other state attractions out from under DENR to the Department of Cultural Resources.


The move has been talked about for years as part of efforts to improve efficiency in state government. State senators put it in their budget, while the House put further study of the move in its spending plan. Insiders say they are likely to finalize the move in a budget conference committee, where conferees will hash out how many administrators will move and other details.

“By moving natural resources to join cultural resources, you have like-minded groups that have common goals. They have operations that have visitors and generate part of their own revenue,” said Pugh. “They are more alike in that they are focused on preservation and are working hard to be more entrepreneurial. It’s good to go to an agency that is already making strides in those areas.”


Pugh was with the N.C. Zoo for 24 years and is looking forward to continuing work on its core missions: conservation and education.

“In protecting the environment you need tools in your tool box: education, regulation and conservation. When they enjoy their visit here, people learn how important conservation is and they will do things on their own to help.”

DENR has not announced a permanent assistant secretary, but officials say they have started the process to choose a successor.